Do You Have The Optimism Gene?

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person? This video from AsapSCIENCE suggests that your optimism — or lack thereof — may not be in your control; in fact, your emotional outlook could be a result of genetics. So whether you see the world through rose- tinted glasses or feel a deep soul-bond with Eeyore, you have science to thank. (Or, you know, blame, depending on your perspective).

The video’s narrator explains that certain genetic variations affect how positively or negatively people approach the world around them. He explains that “those with two long alleles on specific genes controlling for serotonin are more likely to focus on positive images”; in contrast, people with a “short allele on the same gene are more likely to focus on negative images.” Differences in the oxytocin receptor gene also impact people’s relative pessimism or optimism.

Optimism and pessimism both have their pluses and minuses. An optimist, for example, is less likely than a pessimist to have to go back to the hospital after coronary artery bypass surgery, and is more likely to do well in school and have a higher socioeconomic status. But optimists’ characteristically sunny outlook can also lead them to “underestimate risk” and “overestimate their abilities.” Pessimists, in contrast, tend to be more careful in their behavior, avoiding risks to their health and financial futures; in fact, they may even live longer than their optimistic counterparts.

Many of us may like to think of ourselves as cynical realists, stripped of idealism and hope in the face of postmodern disillusionment (or, uh, maybe that’s just my lingering teenaged angst talking), but we’re probably more optimistic than we think. The video points out that about 80 percent of people are subject to the “optimism bias,” according to which we tend to “overestimate the probability of positive events occurring in the future, while grossly underestimating the probability of negative ones.” Thus, most of us are essentially programed to hope for the best.

Watch the full video below:

Images: Pexels; YouTube (2)